Lies leave victims shat­tered

Irish Independent - - Front Page - STELLA O’MAL­LEY

SO they’ve done it again. Of­fi­cial Ire­land and the Catholic Church have, yet again, ducked and dived and tried their level best to avoid ad­mit­ting re­spon­si­bil­ity for the un­told dam­age they have done to their peo­ple.

They de­nied, they ob­fus­cated, they cov­ered up and then even­tu­ally, when they had no other op­tion, they fi­nally came clean and blamed the times they were in. It’s all so dis­mally fa­mil­iar and so we know this sorry dance all too well. This time the cover-up in­volved who­knows-how-many chil­dren whose fam­ily of ori­gin were wiped clean from their birth cer­tifi­cates.

The pur­pose of this grim ini­tia­tive was to pre­vent ‘il­le­git­i­mate’ ba­bies from fall­ing into the hands of the Protes­tants. Arch­bishop John Charles McQuaid, who, with Éa­mon de Valera’s ac­qui­es­cence, was pretty much shap­ing the country at the time, was so ap­palled at the very idea of the Protes­tant mother and baby homes in­ad­ver­tently win­ning over some Ir­ish Catholics that he de­creed that the Catholics had bet­ter up their game.

And so, as if they were com­modi­ties in a hos­tile takeover, the Catholic nuns fal­si­fied doc­u­ments and ex­ported the chil­dren to Catholic homes in Amer­ica.

So it was that vul­ner­a­ble ba­bies, shipped thou­sands of miles away, were armed with noth­ing but a false birth cer­tifi­cate and the be­gin­ning of a false sense of iden­tity.

It all reads like cor­po­rate war­fare or po­lit­i­cal hos­til­i­ties rather than two re­li­gions, from the same ethos, the same God, the same Bi­ble, jeal­ously guard­ing their num­bers. The thing is, though, the Protes­tants just don’t seem to have used the dirty tricks the Catholic Church en­gaged in.

Per­haps the Catholics were be­ing Je­suit­i­cal about it all, and they be­lieved the end jus­ti­fied the means? Pre­sum­ably these nuns thought there was no real harm done by all these lies and sub­terfuge; they most prob­a­bly thought ‘sure, God is good and at least we have them play­ing for the right team’.

There are men and women in their 50s and 60s to­day who will very soon have their en­tire iden­ti­ties shat­tered by this news. These peo­ple are go­ing about their day-to-day lives, en­tirely obliv­i­ous to the bomb­shell hurtling to­wards them right at this mo­ment.

The pro­found dam­age this knowl­edge will do to both the adopted peo­ple and to their fam­i­lies will take some time to emerge. For some peo­ple, it will be like an earth­quake in their psy­che, for oth­ers it will not be such a big deal. It de­pends on the per­son, on the fam­ily and on the cir­cum­stances of their lives.

It can be enor­mously trau­matic for a per­son in late middle age, with an al­ready well-formed iden­tity, to sud­denly find out that they were adopted. Ev­ery mem­ory of their child­hood and ev­ery lov­ing rec­ol­lec­tion of their par­ents and sib­lings can sud­denly feel skewed or alien­at­ing. A deep sense of be­trayal and aban­don­ment can fol­low and the adopted per­son can feel dis­con­nected from their adopted fam­ily, as if they were on the out­side and look­ing at the part they

played in a fic­ti­tious nar­ra­tive. The peo­ple in­volved can also sud­denly feel a height­ened sense of im­po­tent rage and, in some cases, es­trange­ment or fam­ily rifts can de­velop.

The rev­e­la­tion of a big fam­ily se­cret can make a per­son feel like the Earth has tilted on its axis. They may have dark thoughts to­wards their par­ents and other fam­ily mem­bers as they try to fig­ure out who knew what and when. It can feel hu­mil­i­at­ing when an in­di­vid­ual re­alises that ev­ery­one else knew and that they were the last to know. On the other hand, if no one but the par­ents knew, it can feel as if an emo­tional chasm has sud­denly opened be­tween the child and the par­ents.

The sense of loss a per­son can ex­pe­ri­ence on hear­ing this news is some­times life-chang­ing. Our fam­i­lies give us a sense of iden­tity, a solid ground from which we can lift off. With­out a strong sense of where we have come from, it can be dif­fi­cult to find a pur­pose or the abil­ity to project into the fu­ture. This sense of self isn’t a lux­ury, but an emo­tional need that ev­ery one of us re­quires. Just like love and be­long­ing, when we have it we can blithely as­sume that we would be fine with­out it, but when it is taken from us we can sud­denly feel empty, iso­lated and lost.

It’s not only the psy­cho­log­i­cal re­cal­i­bra­tion that this new knowl­edge gen­er­ates but the new knowl­edge of their DNA and her­itage may have cer­tain ram­i­fi­ca­tions for peo­ple. Not only that, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to quan­tify how many lives could have been saved or im­proved with the lost med­i­cal knowl­edge about ge­netic con­di­tions, blood­related ill­nesses and many other health im­pli­ca­tions.

The prob­lem with lies is that they cre­ate more lies. When the fam­i­lies were given ba­bies with fal­si­fied birth cer­tifi­cates that stated the adop­tive par­ents were the real par­ents, these fam­i­lies were then led to cre­ate fur­ther lies about preg­nan­cies and blood con­nec­tions. This in turn would have cre­ated a gap, a kind of va­cant space where the op­por­tu­nity for deep con­nec­tion and bond­ing was lost. The sad­dest as­pect of this story is that the false nar­ra­tive that was im­posed on these ba­bies and their adop­tive fam­i­lies cre­ated a dis­tance and an emo­tional gap that might never truly be bridged.

These peo­ple are go­ing about their day-to-day lives, en­tirely obliv­i­ous to the bomb­shell hurtling to­wards them right at this mo­ment

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